Deputy sheriffs have responded to an uptick in crime in western Franklin County in the six weeks since the Hollywood Casino Columbus opened.
The casino, at 200 Georgesville Road, is in Columbus but abuts areas patrolled by the county sheriff's office.
Columbus police say incidents there have been unremarkable, but Sheriff Zach Scott said the increase his deputies have seen was expected. "If the population increases, crime increases," Scott said.
In the roughly 20-square-mile area just west of the casino, deputies took 206 reports, including 126 assaults, in the casino's first 44 days. During the same period last year, deputies took 162 reports, including 43 assault reports. But assaults were on the rise even before the casino opened, as compared with last year.
Since the casino opened, there also have been increases in robberies, from nine to 14, and motor-vehicle thefts, from six to 11. Burglary numbers stayed the same, and car break-ins dropped steeply, from 66 to 15.
Penn National Gaming, which owns the casino, doesn't release attendance numbers, so it's not known how many more people visit the area daily. But the state's largest casino has 3,000 slot machines, 78 table games, 30 poker tables, four restaurants and a 10,000-square-foot events center." That activity out there brings a lot of attention," Scott said. "And when you bring attention, it brings people and it brings incidents."
When requesting additional deputies this year, Scott had cited the casino's opening and an expected increase in crime. County commissioners agreed in part, and a new class of 30 deputies is to begin training in January.
After Ohio's first casino opened in downtown Cleveland on May 15, city police responded to 80 reports of offenses in nearby districts -- mostly thefts, misdemeanor assaults and narcotics offenses. That was up from 62 reports in April.
By June, reports of crimes dropped to 56 and stayed around 80 during the next three months.
Franklin Township Police Chief Jim Timko said his nine officers and sergeant haven't seen any " increase in business" so far near the new Columbus casino.
"But it's too soon to tell, based on only six weeks," Timko said. "So we're going to be looking at the evaluation in the long term rather than in the short term."
He, like Scott, asked for two more officers to help with the expected increase in workload. The township trustees have not yet decided whether to grant the request.
Columbus police haven't seen a significant amount of crime in or around the casino, according to Sgt. Rich Weiner, a police spokesman.Penn National pays for several Columbus police officers to work special duty 12 hours a day at the casino, which is within the city's jurisdiction. The officers have arrest powers.Police recorded 40 runs to 200 Georgesville Road between the casino's opening and Nov. 25. Runs don't necessarily mean a report was filed or an arrest was made, and they include requests for backup, car crashes, 911 hang-ups and other minor issues.
The most-frequent call is to respond to a disturbance -- drunks fighting, patrons angry because they were kicked out of the casino and other problems.
"We see incidents much worse than these at other special-duty details," Weiner said. "Here, typically, you're just having disputes. We're just there to keep the peace."
Meanwhile, last week Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and the Ohio Casino Control Commission announced the indictments of 10 defendants charged with felony crimes for cheating at the Hollywood Casino in Columbus.
In separate and unrelated cases, the 10 individuals face charges stemming from cheating at table games including blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat.
The indicted include: Arthur S. Murray, 40, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio charged with five counts of cheating at blackjack; Paul Shapiro, 22, of Columbus charged with three counts of cheating at roulette; Terrence Ferguson, 26, of Columbus charged with eight counts of cheating while playing craps; Thomas M. Collins III, 25, of Pickerington, charged with six counts of cheating while playing craps; Andre L. Tibbs, 38, of Columbus charged with seven counts of cheating at blackjack; David Kim, 31 of Columbus charged with two counts of cheating at baccarat; Ming Wu, 45, of Lewis Center, charged with five counts of cheating at baccarat; Mohamed Farah Waes, 22, of Reynoldsburg, charged with 10 counts of cheating at baccarat; Ammar Z. Hanbali, 53, of Hilliard, charged with 10 counts of cheating at poker; and Metin Karasalih, 42, of Canal Winchester, charged with three counts of cheating at blackjack.
The alleged crimes were committed between Oct. 15 and Nov. 8 during the first month of operation for the new Columbus casino, which opened Oct. 8. "These indictments are critical to ensure the integrity of casino gaming in our state," said Karen Huey, director of enforcement for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. "Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and the Ohio Casino Control Commission are sending a strong message that cheating or stealing from a casino violates Ohio law. Stealing from a casino is the same as stealing from the State of Ohio and will not be tolerated."
O'Brien added: "While this is just the first wave of indictments, we will continue to work with the Casino Control Commission and its gaming agents to assure cheaters are caught and prosecuted."
A Franklin County grand jury returned the indictments. The cases will proceed through the county court system with the next step being arraignments. The cases are then assigned to a judge and proceed to trial.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Norwalk Reflector staff writers contributed to this story.
By Allison Manning - The Columbus Dispatch (MCT)
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